With new community center set to open, Merriam ‘presses pause’ on participation in SuperPass program

A rendering of the new pool that’s being built in conjunction with the Merriam Community Center.

The Merriam governing body on Monday decided to opt-out of participation in the area’s SuperPass pool program for the 2020 season in order to “gain a better understanding of the operations and expectations of Merriam Community Center patrons,” according to city documents.

Through the SuperPass program, people who have memberships at one municipal pool can attend a number of other city pools for an additional annual fee. In recent years, Fairway, Leawood, Mission, Roeland Park and Prairie Village have all been part of the program. Merriam was a participant until its old pool complex closed at the end of the 2018 season to make way for construction of the new community and aquatic center.

After comments made by the city council, comments from the public, and two failed motions, Mayor Ken Sissom locked in the deciding vote. Sissom offered his reasoning for “pressing pause” on the SuperPass program.

Mayor Ken Sissom cast the vote to “press pause” on the SuperPass program for the 2020 season.

“One of the primary goals and objectives of the council is to see to the success of our programs,” Sissom said. “Anything that is put into place that could somewhat hamper that, I believe its contrary to the goals of the council.”

The city council discussed the SuperPass during the Oct. 28 meeting as well as during a work session on Nov. 25. They discussed two possibilities for participation in the SuperPass program at the city council meeting this week: Allowing SuperPass patrons into both the indoor and outdoor pool; and allowing SuperPass patrons into only the outdoor pool.

However, Councilmember Al Frisby suggested the council needed to consider whether Merriam should participate in the SuperPass program at all moving forward. One of his arguments was that it would be difficult to prevent SuperPass patrons from using amenities other than the pool while on the community center grounds.

Councilmember-elect Bruce Kaldahl said opening the new community center will be challenging for city staff, and the unknowns may overwhelm staff if Merriam opted to enter the program.

“Tonight if I could vote, I would take a pass at the SuperPass,” Kaldahl said. “Let’s let our staff focus all of their attention on getting the community center up and running this year, and possibly revisit SuperPass next year.”

Some residents lobbied for continued participation in the program, though. Billy Croan said the SuperPass program “fosters a diverse community” with northeast Johnson County neighbors. Croan suggested the council consider charging SuperPass patrons a fee at the time of entrance for a full access pass to the community center.

“We don’t restrict our parks just to Merriam residents, nor our city events, nor this city council meeting,” Croan said. “To borrow a phrase from year’s past, please focus on building a community — not restricting it.”

After two failed motions by Frisby and Councilmember David Neal, Councilmember Christine Evans Hands motioned for council to opt out of the program for the 2020 season and reevaluate for the 2021 season. Councilmembers Jason Silvers, Neal, Bob Pape and Frisby all opposed the motion while the others voted in favor of it.